NO LONGER GOOD
Greed has now become the preferred explanation for the Wall Street debacle. John McCain and much of Congress have joined in the chorus. There is no doubt that there are huge disparities in wages and bonuses between those working on Wall Street and those working elsewhere, and many have said to me in recent years that the compensation and profits made from hedge funds and investment banks are “crazy,” “obscene,” “unfair,” etc. That has been true for some time. But why is this being called “greed”? And why now?
Standing back from the events of the last month makes it clear how many factors contributed to the crisis: the mortgage lenders who saw only more business for themselves, the investment banks who packaged the securitized debt, the investment advisors following the herd, the regulators who stayed on the sidelines, and, of course, the poor suckers who took out loans they couldn’t pay. So we need someone to take the hit.
But it is not just the complexity of the problem that leads to this search for oversimplified explanation. We don’t want to know how flawed and how risky our financial system is — at the point when “free markets” and triumphed and all out pensions, health plans, college funds, and savings are invested. We want to believe that we should be secure. And if it turns out that we are not as secure as we thought, that risk has not been managed down to a negligible factor, someone must be to blame.
Gordon Gekko is famous for suggesting that greed is good. This is our revenge. Not only is greed not good, he himself and his ilk are bad. They let us down.